Lay off Louis - Loram

ENGLAND'S top speedway rider Mark Loram has blasted Ipswich Evening Star Witches fans for their treatment of skipper Chris Louis.Stowmarket-based Loram, who was world champion in 2000 and rides against the Witches for Eastbourne tonight, said: "What Chris needs now is encouragement and not slating.

By Elvin King

ENGLAND'S top speedway rider Mark Loram has blasted Ipswich Evening Star Witches fans for their treatment of skipper Chris Louis.

Stowmarket-based Loram, who was world champion in 2000 and rides against the Witches for Eastbourne tonight, said: "What Chris needs now is encouragement and not slating. He still has a great deal to offer both Ipswich and Team Great Britain."

Louis, a former world number three and last season's national team captain, has struggled to reach his best form this season – and his slump has coincided with a dreadful start to the year for the Witches.

The Suffolk side has enjoyed just two wins in nine matches, including defeats in their last five meetings.

Louis scored just five points – from five starts – in Thursday's 51-39 defeat by Eastbourne in the first leg of their Knock-Out Cup tie.

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The second leg is at Arlington tonight and it would take an extraordinary turnaround in

fortunes for the Witches to reach the semi-final on aggregate.

Loram flew to Edinburgh to ride in a testimonial meeting for Jan Andersen with Louis

yesterday. They travelled back together overnight in Loram's van to be in Sussex in time for tonight's meeting.

Loram and Louis have been friends since they rode for Hackney together as teenagers in 1988. They both moved to Ipswich the following year, where Louis has remained giving wonderful service to his home town club.

Loram, who was in the meeting in Lvov, Ukraine, when Louis won the world Under-21 title in 1990, moved on to King's Lynn that year and has since ridden for a number of top-flight clubs.

He continued: "Chris will come back. He needs his loyal fans right now, although I know that he is keeping his pecker up.

"A couple of good meetings will make all the difference. I have been lucky not to suffer a serious injury so I cannot put myself in his position.

"But perhaps he would benefit from not having the pressure of being a heat leader right now. Chris will be back, I have no doubt about that."

Loram travelled to Newport as soon as he could after he heard about the terrible crash suffered by former Witches rider Lawrence Hare this week.

"I spent a day with the family," said Loram. "Lawrence is a great man and a good friend and we will all rally round him."

Ipswich team manager Mike Smillie has Oxford's Andrew Appleton in mind to replace the injured Carl Baldwin tonight, while Leigh Lanham will fill the floater role as Danny Bird, if fit, will be riding for the Isle of Wight at Workington.

Smillie plans to switch Jeremy Doncaster and Joonas Kylmakorpi in his team for Thursday's home Sky Sports Elite League match against Coventry.

But tonight he will be looking for much better back-up to number one Scott Nicholls and if not an aggregate win then at least see some pride restored against a

talented side destined to have a say in both league and cup this year.

Tonight's line-ups

Eastbourne: M Loram, D Norris, D Barker, J Andersson, J Screen, S Clouting, T Svab.

Ipswich: C Louis, J Kylmakorpi, C Boyce, J Doncaster, S Nicholls, L Lanham, L Herne (or A Appleton).

For report AND pictures of tonight's match don't miss Monday's Evening Star.

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